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Game Preview: Rutgers

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The Hoosiers are COMING HOME and that kid who always got in trouble for setting lockers on fire and threatening teachers is still hanging around the old 7/11 and maybe if you just keep walking he won't recognize yo- OH HI RUTGERS THAT'S A COOL NECK TATTOO.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-3, #103 S&P+) v. Indiana Hoosiers (4-2, #48 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 10/17, 3:30 PM, Bloomington, Indiana

Channel? Big Ten Network

Vegas? WE DON'T KNOW

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Indiana suddenly has health issues, and for a roster that has just now reached the point of starting mostly B1G caliber talent across the field on both sides of the ball, injuries can be devastating.

The Scarlet Knights clock in a few spots higher than Florida International on the S&P+, a team Indiana struggled to put away until very late early in the season. The defense was still missing a couple key contributors (Chase Dutra on a low snap count coming back from injury, Tegray Scales still serving his suspension) and Indiana had to rely on big plays from that unit to make up for some missed tackles early in the game.

That said, Rutgers took Michigan State to the very brink last week in Piscataway, and might have had a real shot if the play caller and/or the quarterback had remembered how many chances a team is allotted to achieve a first down before it's an automatic turnover. But that is neither here nor there when discussing the upcoming game, but it would be off #brand to not at least mention some hilarious Rutgers failing.

THE OPPONENT: (#103 S&P+, #83 Offense, #109 Defense)

Rutgers is, obviously, going through some stuff right now, and it's showing up on the field. Their statistical profile is a complete mess, ranking 52nd or lower in all the "Five Factors" except for Offensive Efficiency (16th!) and preventing points inside their 40-yard line (38th!). They're 96th in the country when it comes to running the ball and 79th at defending the run. They are 18th(!!!) when it comes to throwing the ball but just one spot from dead last in defending the pass (123rd).

Given all those bad numbers, how does S&P+ like Rutgers going forward?

oh

Sophomore Chris Laviano is completing 70% of this passes, but averages only 6.9 yards per attempt (nice), which helps explain Rutgers efficiency while also explaining their complete lack of explosiveness. IN FAIRNESS: Leonte Carroo, devastating scorer of touchdowns, had missed the two games preceding the Michigan State game, and returned to catch 7 balls for 134 yards and three scores. He's averaging over 22 yards a catch, catches over 80% of his targets, and is responsible for 86% of Rutgers' wide receiver touchdowns DESPITE missing two games.

He's why you should be afraid of Rutgers, if you choose to be at all. Indiana has shown little ability to cover guys of his caliber, and while Indiana's defense inches towards respectability, they will likely have their hands full just trying to keep Carroo somewhat corralled.

The best way to defend him, given what Rutgers has done this season, is to probably bank on the fact he can't score enough to keep Rutgers in the game. The Scarlet Knights' defense is abysmal, ranked twenty spots lower than Indiana's on the S&P+ and have yet to face an offense that is anything like what they will see on Saturday in Bloomington. Assuming, perhaps wrongfully, that Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard are available.

Oh yeah, about that.

THE HOOSIERS: (#48 S&P+, #15 Offense, #83 Defense)

If Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard suit up and play against Rutgers, you have to like Indiana's chances. If one of them suits up, you still have to like Indiana's chances. If neither of them play, well, things start to get dicey.

The good news is that Kevin Wilson has divulged that both are doing more at practice each and every day, and have yet to have any setbacks. Both remain atop the depth chart at their respective positions, but we learned last week that the chart is not an indicator of availability for a given game. Many have flooded our mentions in outrage that Nate Sudfeld was cleared to play by the medical staff ahead of the game against Penn State and subsequently did not see the field as a collection of Zander Diamont (who left the game with his own injury) and Danny Cameron struggled to move the ball.

This is the last time I'm going to say this, read carefully:

There can be a gulf of difference between being "medically cleared" and being "an effective football player." The training staff tells the coaches the extent of the injury and whether or not the player can safely be on the field of play without risk of making the injury worse and it is a single variable in a multi-faceted decision. The coaches will then watch the player practice (or not practice), they'll talk to the player, they'll assess their options, and if the injured starter is not deemed to be a better option than the healthy backups, he's not going to play.

I know that second-guessing a coaching staff is a long-held tradition of college football. But I assure you that Kevin Wilson was watching the same game you were, he saw the struggles at the quarterback position, he knew Nate Sudfeld was medically cleared, and based on the information he possessed that we could not possibly know (because we don't watch practice) he STILL didn't see him as a better option. If something happened to Danny Cameron, it would have been Nate Boudreau in the huddle. Sudfeld was cleared, not healed.

Hopefully both players are back this week and we don't have to worry about this stuff anymore.

I realize I've devoted the majority of the Hoosiers' section of the game preview to these injuries, but as you saw last week, these two represent the difference between "team that will clear six wins easily" and "team that is headed back to the 3-4 win quagmire of the past few seasons." Indiana isn't alone in that, as most teams would struggle desperately without their top quarterback and top running back, particularly teams that rely heavily on their offense to win football games.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  • Heavy Favorites: S&P+ likes the Hoosiers by 20+ points on Saturday, which strikes me as a little high against a conference opponent. Not because Rutgers doesn't deserve that kind of spread, but it's just strange to see Indiana favored at that margin by anyone, Vegas, statistical model, or otherwise. Indiana is typically on the wrong end of such spreads, but it's a nice change. We'll see if the real-life Hoosiers can match up to their statistical projection.
  • Running Back Depth Chart: It has been somewhat obvious that Jordan Howard's injury is worse than Nate Sudfeld's, as he didn't even have a helmet during the Penn State game. Devine Redding, in his absence, has not been as effective as hoped, with his season YPC down to 2.9. Perhaps we see more from Andrew Wilson and Alex Rodriguez against Rutgers should Jordan Howard miss that game as well.
  • Can the running backs break some long runs? The longest run by an Indiana running back this season is 35 yards, and the team's overall rushing explosiveness is 110th in the country. Against a below-average rushing defense, perhaps the Hoosiers' running back corps can break out a couple big runs to help ease the pressure on the passing offense to get the ball down the field.